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Buckthorn and Whitetail deer make for a tough situation

 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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So I've observed something interesting in regards to my property.
I have 10 acres of mature oak/elm/black cherry woods that have been completely overrun with European buckthorn.
It's bad, I mean impassable forest floors, bare soil under the buckthorn trees, nothing lives, nothing grows but buckthorn and these towering oaks and elms above them.
Clearing has been a tough task, I've still not found a silver bullet.

Side note: An area of a steep north facing hill has had boxelder out compete the buckthorn, likely by outreaching it to the light. I will be trying a girdling on these remaining buckthorn trees to see if I can force them to coppice beneath the canopy and possibly die out. Another area had really thick burdock and also appears to have out competed buckthorn seedlings.

The only area that has been cleared is our "backyard", essentially a 100 x 100 ft area enclosed by an 8' wire fence in to keep our dogs from running off( yes 8', we have very athletic dogs apparently). The area directly outside of the fence was also cleared for a few feet to ease putting in the fenceline.
So the buckthorn was cut/chopped/pulled and the remaining seedlings are small enough to deal with on occasions when there's some time for it, nothing over a foot tall remains from a literal forest of 30-50' buckthorn.

I also live in an area with a really high deer population, my land probably has 6-10 on it every day, there are corn fields down the road that probably have multiple deer 24/7/365. I don't hunt, but even if I did that's not going to do much to the population, most if not all of my neighbors hunt their land, plus the road has multiple car deer hits a year. The population isn't going down or away.

Get to the point: The fenced in area has almost magically started to recover. Seedlings of dogwood, hazelnut, maple, birch, basswood, and hackberry have overtaken the buckthorn seedlings in growth. How does a hazelnut just show up out of nowhere?
Small forest plants of all shapes and sizes also simply "showed up" including bloodroot, ramps, and other spring flowering things.
We had no morels previous to clearing out that area, ever since we did we have morels, giant puffballs, and other mushrooms.
I put no effort into planting these things other than clearing the buckthorn and pushing brush out towards the fence.
The area remains somewhat clear now 3 years post buckthorn, likely another round of cleaning out will completely remove any sign of the stuff inside the fence.
Outside, inches from the cleared area, the buckthorn has grown 3-6 feet already.

My theory deer browsing natives combined with buckthorn's robust growth properties create a multiplied invasiveness much worse than just the plant itself could produce. This now makes more sense why I never see buckthorn in the northern part of Minnesota where deer populations are lower and predators are still around. Also why the worst buckthorn infestations are in the suburbs and outlying areas around the metropolitan area with the highest deer populations(less hunting, no predators, some farming).
 
Jeff Reiland
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Location: Central Iowa
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bike forest garden hunting
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Interesting observation. I will be hesitant to start any seaberries at my folks place until I hear more updates on the topic. Thanks!
 
David Livingston
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I wondered if you had squillels as they often plant hazel for you . If you want it or nor frankly

David
 
Rebecca Norman
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Jeff Reiland wrote:Interesting observation. I will be hesitant to start any seaberries at my folks place until I hear more updates on the topic. Thanks!


I'm not sure the original post has anything to do with seaberries.

Seabuckthorn, which produces edible berries, is Hippophae spp. It is native and rampant here in Ladakh. The thorns are some of the longest and nastiest I've worked around, and the berries are extremely sour, slightly bitter, and don't have much flavor or fragrance, so I would recommend that you hesitate before growing them anyway. However, they are indeed nitrogen fixers, and here in Ladakh they are vigorous colonizers of empty desert land, and the berries and seed-oil are touted as being the most nutritious thing on earth with all sorts of magical anti-oxidents and whatnot -- so I'm not totally anti-seabuckthorn, etiher. But if you have other options, please do consider them.

Buckthorn is Rhamnus spp and I don't know much about it except that it is not even in the same family as seabuckthorn.
 
David Livingston
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Is there not away to make this problem a solution ?
Goat food for instance ?

David
 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Jeff Reiland wrote:Interesting observation. I will be hesitant to start any seaberries at my folks place until I hear more updates on the topic. Thanks!

Different plant, I WISH I had sea buckthorn everywhere.
This is European buckthorn.
I'm considering getting goats, that's a big jump for me right now though, also I've heard buckthorn is a really strong diuretic for most animals.
 
Susan Skov
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Location: Denmark (USDA Zone 7, Koppen Cfb temperate oceanic)
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The confusion comes from the common name 'buckthorn', as both Hippophae rhamnoides (sea-buckthorn) and Rhamnus frangula (alder buckthorn) are commonly referred to as 'buckthorn'. From the OP's description of the habitat in which the plant is growing, it is almost certainly Rhamnus frangula. One really good way to distinguish Rhamnus frangula from other 'buckthorns' is that it does not have thorns.
Wikipedia has some good information http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frangula_alnus#Taxonomy_and_naming
Since lack of light will hinder the growth of the alder buckthorn, it might be a good idea to remove it by hand in small areas, which can be protected from the deer until the canopy closes better, or plant things you want, that can shade out the alder buckthorn, with protection, until they get big enough to take some deer grazing.
 
Susan Skov
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Location: Denmark (USDA Zone 7, Koppen Cfb temperate oceanic)
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A better posibility is Rhamnus cathartica (common buckthorn), which is shade tolerant and has a harder, denser wood.
Wikipedia: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhamnus_cathartica#In_North_America
This sounds like really difficult stuff to get rid of, but one effective solution suggested was a propane weed torch in spring or early summer, before other plants have sprouted.
Both plants are extremely purgative, so goats aren't a good idea.
 
Bill McGee
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I did a google search and found an article/ discussion on a blog called Slow water Vermont (searched buckthorn: slow water Vermont). Also searched buckthorn as firewood. Seems like one type is very dense and burns well. Also some people were carving bowls and really liked the wood.
 
Akiva Silver
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One thing about deer, is that even when there's a lot of them, they are easily funneled, they like to walk the path of least resistance. You can cut that buckthorn and pile the tops into barriers that funnel the deer around certain areas. Then focus on regeneration in areas that you protect with dead buckthorn tops. Buckthorn is really good at this because the tops are so gnarly.
 
Susan Skov
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Location: Denmark (USDA Zone 7, Koppen Cfb temperate oceanic)
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Now that's turning a problem into a solution!
 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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That's a good point akiva,
I have used previously cut down buckthorn as brush "hedges" along a side of our property that borders a highway, the deer do seem to follow that.
I will be incorporating the cut buckthorn brush into whatever fencing I do put up, maybe trying to funnel them away from my forest garden area would be worth a try.
I'm very interested in the robust natural recovery that has occurred in my yard area, it gives me hope that if I can get a handle on the invasive situation nature might just help me regenerate a nice forest. It's quite striking the species that seemingly popped up out of no where that are numerous inside the fenced area which is maybe a half acre, and completely absent on my remaining 9.5 acres.
 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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I thought I'd do an observational update on my buckthorn(Rhamnus) infestation.
I'm becoming more and more convinced that heavy deer foraging and buckthorn infestations go hand and hand.
My grove project(previously described as a forest garden in this thread, has now been sectioned off from deer, either by fencing or brushwalls.
I also am now into year 4 of our backyard being fenced off from deer. I've been on my property for 5 years total now.
A few things:
I've observed the buckthorn being completely outcompeted and choked away by native boxelder trees on a north facing hillside. It's quite impressive actually, the large buckthorn trees started coppicing out from the base when their tops failed to reach sunlight through the thick boxelder canopy. The buckthorn just falls over with the added weight of dead coppiced wood and snow. I have never seen deer browse boxelder here, and even if they did it grows so quickly the result would simply be more growth.

In the backyard area, I had cleared some buckthorn away, but again am seeing native trees and plants where there were none before. Dogwood, birch, poplar, black cherry, maple, oak, hazelnut, and all sorts of spring ephemeral plants like bloodroot, ramps, and others. The interesting thing is that none of these species exists outside of the fenceline anywhere on the 10 acres, and the native species appear to be outcompeting the buckthorn seedlings in the area. I think the deer tip the balance of nature in favor of the buckthorn by browsing early spring growth of these other tastier plants.

In my food forest grove area some more clearing needs to be done, but I am seeing seedlings emerge of some of the surrounding hackberry and black cherry, as well as honeysuckle. I would hypothesize this area will fill in with all sorts of non-buckthorn trees like the backyard did, only I will be designing and planting other useful species as well.

I am bullish on my buckthorn situation for the first time since I've lived here and can now see hope in healing the forest.
 
duane hennon
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hi Russell,

deer are a problem in Pa also
they browse almost everything
especially in the winter

the state has some info on deer and forest regeneration that confirms your observations
http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/forests/finance/forest-tax-info/publications/forest-finance-2-fencing-for-forest-regeneration-does-it-pay
on some of the state game lands (public hunting)
it is so bad that people think large trees with only fern understory is natural!!
in the suburbs it is even worse
http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2011/02/08/deer-population-growing-in-around-city-of-pittsburgh/
made worse by a clash between the "purple" (can't we use non-lethal) vrs "brown (let's open the area up to hunting) memes
http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/tag/deer/

trying to establish trees here is a problem
this winter was especially hard
and the deer were eating things they normally ignore
 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Here is the buckthorn that has been out competed by the box elder, it's a beautiful sight to me. There are several like this, they eventually just fall down.
image.jpg
[Thumbnail for image.jpg]
 
Jack Edmondson
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Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Well, you have your solution. Boxelder syrup is reported to be even more delectable than Maple syrup. Plant lots of Boxelder, get rid of the buckthorn problem, and as a bonus you have a syrup factory. Problem solved.

Boxelder Syrup
 
Dan Tutor
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Russel your theory is absolutely correct. We have the same problem here, except instead of buckthorn, we have invasive barberry. To make matters worse, the deer eat the barberry berries, depositing their seeds in little manure balls all over the place.

In the few years I've had my forest garden fenced I've had elderberries and red currents spring up from no where!

It's amazing what is just waiting in the soil!
 
Steve Simons
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We've been slowly clearing European buckthorn from parts of our property to open space for other activities. There's some stumps that we pruned back heavily but didn't get around to removing. As Douglas Barnes pointed out to me during a consultation, these stumps show some potential for coppice as I filmed in this clip:


Although the European buckthorn thorns don't look threatening, they are surprisingly effective and until I bought better gloves, my clearing days were always followed by tweezer sessions. Interestingly, I observed that the buckthorn regrowth has almost no spikes in the first couple of years. Seems counterintuitive but it's what I've observed. As a coppice the shoots also grow back straighter which makes the much easier to manage when feeding into a rocket stove or most other uses.
 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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There's no doubt it has immense coppice potential, my most recent clearing had a few mature stumps I simply didn't get around to pulling or attending to and they put on 7' of growth this summer, maybe 10-15 shoots about the width of a thumb. It burns just fine, for a rocket heater I'd imagine the stick wood would be great. I agree on the thorns being absent in young growth. Boxelder and elm have shown similar growth for me too.
Good gloves are a must, I'd also add that eye protection seems important too for thick areas, the buckthorn seems to fight back on occasion grabbing and whipping as it's cleared.


I have continued to develop a game plan for my infestation, and continue to try alternative methods to pulling which is so labor intensive.
A few items:
In my food forest "grove" I hand cut swale and berms, the shallow digging of the swales eliminated any buckthorn seedlings and in the areas I developed only a few stumps remain. The shallow roots can be thick but are not difficult to cut through and the buckthorn won't resprout.
I think as I develop my property into food forests and such the problem may become less and less of an issue.

In the future I anticipate getting a tractor or skid steer that would come with a bucket and maybe I could "skim" the topsoil free of the buckthorn roots, it's possible that I could even backfill the soil a few days later after the roots dry out and die eliminating any soil loss, or I could plant a green manure crop in it's place. Ahh the future.

The boxelder overstory remains a vibrant option. I may start over seeding areas with boxelder and chop and drop it after it outcompetes the buckthorn.

I have collected a cover crop mix of burdock, curly dock, wintercress, and mullein. In areas with heavy burdock growth the buckthorn appears subdued, the other "weeds" have shown the ability to growth low to the ground and smother out seedlings and will help build soil and be a chop and drop mulch source.
A warning: collecting burdock and crushing the seeds out of the velcro pods with something hard(hammer) is easy enough, but wear skin protection and gloves. The barbs on the seed pods must get airborne as they are crushed and I had a horrific rash all over my arms that itched terribly for several days. Might be dangerous to inhale too.

My comfrey plants grew very well this year and I will be propagating more from the roots next spring, in addition to my seed mix I think this has a possibility to be a smother or barrier plant I can use to eliminate the seedlings.

An observation which was quite pleasant to see was the areas I clear cut the buckthorn 2 years ago remain 2-4' tall due to intense deer browsing. The low growing and tender coppiced shoots seem to be quite palatable to the deer. The problem isn't eliminated but at least the deer are keeping the trees from growing to maturity and buying me time.

 
Andrew Mateskon
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A previous post mentioned goats, but quickly set aside the recommendation because the plant is purgative. I'm not so sure. Here is someone in Minnesota targeting buckthorn with a goat herd, ask this person if their goats are adversely effected by eating it:

http://goatdispatch.com/managing-invasive-buckthorn/
 
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